How to Plan and Install a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

Sprinkler System

Keeping your lawn watered is no joke. You can easily spend hours dragging a hose and hose-end sprinkler around every few days. If you want a lush, beautiful lawn, why not plan and install a home lawn sprinkler system? 

Depending on your yard’s size and the system, you can install a sprinkler system in a few weekends. With proper preparation and the right parts, your new sprinklers will be up and running in no time! 

DIY or Professional Installation?

Deciding whether to do it yourself or have a professional install your lawn irrigation system is a process of weighing many essential factors. 

A professional installation is carefree and might be best — or even necessary — because of strict state and local regulations. Nancy Price Foreman, owner and director of operations with Drilling and Irrigation Services in Melbourne, Florida, notes that when you hire a professional to do the job, the system is also covered by a warranty. 

But don’t second-guess yourself. Installing a DIY lawn sprinkler system is something to take pride in, and both installation and upkeep are doable for a homeowner.

Pros and cons of professional lawn sprinkler installation


  • A professional designs the system for you
  • Installation typically comes with a limited warranty
  • You don’t have to do the physical work


  • Up-front costs: Professionally installed sprinkler systems cost $2,400 to $4,200, depending on the yard size, materials, and the company you use
  • It may take a while to get on a contractor’s schedule

Pros and cons of DIY lawn sprinkler installation


  • You’ll save money. On average, parts cost $1,500 or less 
  • Installation is entirely on your schedule


  • Labor intensive
  • You have to find and fix malfunctions on your own
  • You have to pay for repairs
  • You may need to rent equipment

Choose a Sprinkler System Kit or Build Your Own System

Sprinkler system
Photo Credit: Aqua Mechanical / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Just because you decide to install your own irrigation doesn’t necessarily mean you need to build an extensive sprinkler setup. Some irrigation companies offer sprinkler system kits that are a plug-and-play option. For some homeowners, the kits fit their watering needs; for others, they need to build a system to get what they want. 

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Is a Sprinkler System Kit a Good Fit?

Rainbird and other irrigation companies offer sprinkler system kits. Overall, using a sprinkler system kit can be a convenient and cost-effective option for small to medium-sized lawns. However, there might be limitations in terms of coverage and customization. 

Pros of Sprinkler System Kit:

  • Easy to Use: Sprinkler system kits are designed to be convenient and can be quickly connected to an outdoor faucet. They include all the necessary parts and installation instructions.
  • Ideal for small to medium lawns: These kits suit lawns between 1,000 and 3,000 square feet. You might need multiple kits to ensure adequate watering if you have a larger yard.
  • Affordable: Kits are generally more budget-friendly than hiring professionals for installation. A single-zone pre-fabricated kit can run from $50 to $250, depending on the features.

Cons of Sprinkler System Kit:

  • Limited coverage: Larger areas may require multiple kits to provide adequate coverage.
  • Difficult to expand: Expanding the system may impact water pressure, affecting performance. This may lead to decreased spray distance and rotors that do not pop up or spin.
  • Limitations regarding slopes or hills: The area should be at most 6 feet from the water source when watering on hills.

Become Familiar With Your Home’s Water System

Before you sit down to plan your DIY lawn sprinkler system and rush out to purchase supplies, you need to determine several important aspects of water flow through your system. Once you figure these out, you can decide what components to use and purchase the correct parts.

Water Meter Size/Well Size

Your water source can have an impact on the sprinkler system in terms of water availability and flow rate. Considering these factors when laying out a sprinkler system is essential to ensure a sufficient water supply.

  • Municipal water system: If you receive water from a city water system, you can typically locate the water meter size on the outdoor box. Contact your water company for the information if you cannot find it there.
  • Well water system: The size of your well pump is indicated on the pump’s exterior or in its owner’s manual.

Measure Water Pressure 

Water pressure gauge
Photo Credit: Thomas Quine / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

To determine the working measurement of your water pressure, which is the pressure while the water is turned on, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure all water valves and faucets inside and outside your home are turned off.
  2. Attach a pressure gauge to an outside faucet.
  3. Turn on the water at the spigot.
  4. The gauge will show you your water pressure in pounds per square inch (psi).

Check Flow Rate

To determine your flow rate, measure the amount of water, or how many gallons of water per minute (GPM), move through your water lines. The steps for determining your flow rate are basic:

  1. Take a 5-gallon container to your outside spigot.
  2. Turn the water fully on and use your phone to record the time it takes to fill the container.
  3. Divide the container’s size by how many seconds it took to fill.
  4. Multiply that result by 60, and you end up with the flow rate (gallons per minute).
  5. To determine the gallons per hour (GPH), multiply the flow rate by 60.

Here’s a simple example: 

5 (gallon container) / 30 (seconds to fill) = 0.166 (gallons per second)

0.166 X 60 (seconds in a minute) = 10 gallons per minute

10 (flow rate, or gallons per minute) X 60 (minutes per hour) = 600 (gallons per hour)

Try it out: Assuming you’re using a 5-gallon bucket, use this calculator to determine your GPH:

Pro Tip: Nancy Forman suggests determining the water flow rate (gallons) before installing a sprinkler system. Additionally, you should determine the water usage of each sprinkler head to ensure the proper number of heads are installed. Overloading a zone with an insufficient flow rate may lead to inadequate watering.

Service Line Size

Before running to the hardware store for PVC pipe for your lawn sprinkler system, measure the size of your existing water service line. This will ensure you purchase the correct size parts to tap into the main.

Planning Your Sprinkler System

Photo Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It’s easy to get excited when there’s a new project in the works, but before you start digging holes and laying pipes to install your sprinkler system, you must devise a plan.

When it comes down to how to design a sprinkler system, don’t forget to plan for these essential steps:

  • Research your local ordinances on lawn water usage; they vary from location to location.
  • Check with your local county offices to see if you need a permit to install a sprinkler system. You also should find out if you can install the sprinkler system yourself or if you need to hire a professional, per state and local regulations. 
  • Contact 811 or your local utility companies to mark your underground lines a few days before starting. It’s a free service; you don’t want to hit utility lines and lose power, telephone service, cable, or internet.

Sketch Your Irrigation Plan

The next step is to sketch the area where you’re installing the system so you can designate zones and map out where sprinkler heads are placed. 

When configuring zones for your sprinkler system installation, consider that turf has different water requirements from trees and shrubs. 

Quick tips for drawing your sprinkler system plan

Pro Tip: Access your property using Google Maps or Google Earth, and print off a map instead of sketching it yourself.

  • Keep it to scale as much as possible. 
  • Draw your lawn’s layout, noting the location of trees, flower beds, or other vegetation.
  • Note turfgrass areas for different watering patterns.
  • Mark hardscapes, such as retaining walls, walkways, or a driveway.
  • Mark on your plan where you are placing the PVC pipe and control box.
  • Consider slopes, and note the proposed placements of your sprinkler heads.
  • For proper irrigation, you will want the spray pattern of each head to overlap its neighbor by 50 percent.
  • The spray should overlap all areas of the yard for proper irrigation.

Select Sprinkler Heads

Now that you have mapped out your area for your home sprinkler system, you must select the best sprinkler head types for designated zones based on the plants growing there.

Most in-ground sprinkler systems utilize pop-up sprinkler heads for watering the green areas. When you turn the system on, the head pops up from the ground level, evenly distributing water at a low angle. The units disappear back into the ground when turned off.

Variations of turf, trees, and vegetation call for different head styles. You can use standard sprinkler heads for turfgrass, but you don’t want one that will directly spray against a tree’s bark. The constant saturation could cause problems with the tree and possibly lead to having a zombie tree in your yard. Using lower spray heads for zones containing trees and shrubbery is better. 

A drip irrigation system works better in areas such as a vegetable garden.

Here’s a quick rundown on the different sprinkler head types and where they work best:

  • Fixed spray: Fixed spray sprinkler heads work best on smaller lawns, narrow side yards, or beds with groundcovers or shrubbery. They produce a tight, constant fan of water covering 45 degrees to 360 degrees and spanning 5 to 15 feet.
  • Gear-driven: Gear-driven sprinkler heads work well in large to medium-sized lawns. The heads have a smooth operating style, and their spray patterns can be adjusted.
  • Multiple stream: Multiple stream heads work well on uneven yards, sloped areas, medium-sized yards, or beds with groundcovers. They slowly rotate in an 18-27 foot span, producing multiple thin streams of water.
  • Bubbler/flood: Bubbler or flood heads work well around trees, in planter boxes, or at the base of hedges. They work by flooding water on the ground and around the vegetation’s root zone instead of spraying foliage. They water small areas of 5 feet or less.
  • Shrub: Shrub sprinkler heads serve flower beds with shrubs or in planters. They have unique, adjustable pattern nozzles. They create a more flexible watering pattern. Risers or extensions let them spray above the vegetation.

Divide the Space Into Zones

Now that you know where you’re putting sprinkler heads and have determined what types of heads you will use for the different parts of your yard, it’s time to divide the irrigation area into zones. 

A sprinkler system runs one zone at a time, but all the heads in that area simultaneously. You must know your water pressure and flow rate to determine how many heads you can run per zone. On average, a sprinkler zone can handle five to six rotary heads or eight to 10 spray heads.

If you have too many heads in a zone, they get inadequate pressure, so their spray pattern and distance are shortened.

For example, if your home’s water capacity is approximately 10 GPM, you could effectively run five multiple stream heads that consume 2 GPM. If they consume 3 GPM, you can run three multiple stream heads.

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Supplies Needed to Build Your Own Sprinkler System

Listed below are the essential parts you’ll need to install your DIY sprinkler system:

  • PVC or polyethylene pipe: It’s common for underground sprinkler systems to be made of PVC pipe. Having a little extra on hand is probably a good idea if you make a bad cut.
  • PVC fittings: You’ll need elbows and tees to allow direction changes when laying the PVC piping.
  • Controllers and timers: An irrigation system installation requires a controller and timer you program so the unit knows when and how long to water. You can purchase “smart” or manual controllers.
    • Smart controllers save water by automatically adjusting to the present weather conditions. Some come WIFI-enabled and can be controlled with an app.
    • Manual controllers water according to your program. 
  • Sprinkler heads: Sprinkler heads are the working parts that spray water onto the landscape. The style of sprinkler heads you need depends on the direction of the spray, the amount of space you want to water, and the style of the spray pattern.
  • Tubing or risers: Tubing or risers are required to connect sprinkler heads or drip lines to the PVC pipe to make the system work.
  • Valves: Valves control the flow of water through the system. They open and close to allow water to enter the sprinkler system.
  • Sprinkler manifold: A manifold connects multiple valves of the system. It connects to the supply line and then branches into several lines, one for each valve. 
  • Valve box: Provides easy access and protection for the valves.
  • Wiring: You need wiring to connect to the control center. The control center opens and closes the valves as required.
  • Drains: Drains keep water out of the pipes when they are no longer pressurized. Manual and automatic drains are installed at the end of sprinkler lines and low points.
  • Backflow preventer: Many municipalities require the installation of a backflow preventer for yard sprinkler systems, which keeps the water from going back into the home’s water supply.

Note: This essential parts list doesn’t include basic tools like shovels, PVC glue, a pipe cutter, landscape flags and stakes, or string. You also may want to rent a power trencher or pipe-puller for around $200 at your local machine rental or home improvement store.

How to Install a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

Photo Credit: Daniel R. Blume / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Now that you have located underground wires and pipes, mapped your system, and purchased supplies, it’s time to learn how to install the system.

Step 1: Mark Sprinkler Heads & Pipe

Using your sprinkler system layout diagram, place a landscape flag or stake in every location where you plan to install a sprinkler head. Use string or spray paint to mark where the pipes will go.

Step 2: Dig Trenches

Following the string or paint, dig your trenches for your pipes. They should be 6-12 inches deep. 

Lay your trench’s soil to one side and place the sod on the other side. You can rent a power trencher that makes digging the trenches easier than digging them by hand. To keep from digging up the entire lawn, you can use a pipe-puller to install the PVC piping.

Pro Tip: Nancy Foreman notes that two of the biggest mistakes people make are:

  1. Not placing the heads correctly for 100% coverage. 
  2. Not digging the trenches deep enough. If your trench is too shallow, damage can occur to the pipe.

Step 3: Hook Up Water Supply

To hook up your water supply for your sprinkler system, you have two options:

  • Attach your system to a spigot with sufficient water pressure. This method is the easiest but only suitable for climates without extreme winters.
  • Hook up your system to your main line. This option is more complex, so if you’re uncomfortable with this part, it’s recommended that you call a plumber.

Hooking Up to a Spigot: 

  1. Turn off the water supply going into the house and allow the spigot to drain.
  2. Remove the original spigot and replace it with a galvanized or brass tee.
  3. Match the size of the outlets with the faucet and irrigation pipe you are using.
  4. Reattach the faucet.
  5. Install a nipple (a short pipe with threads on each end) into the tee fitting’s stem.
  6. Connect the shut-off valve to the nipple.

Hooking Up to the Main Water Line: 

  1. Shut off the water before the point in the line where you will be cutting.
  2. For an above-ground connection, cut away a short section of pipe in the supply line just big enough to slide a slip tee into place.
  3. Install a nipple into the stem of the tee fitting.
  4. Connect the shut-off valve to the nipple.

Step 4: Assemble Valve Manifold

Next, install the valve manifold by digging a hole slightly bigger than the valve manifold box. Attach the main water supply line to one end of the valve manifold assembly and tighten the clamps.

Step 5: Lay Out Pipe and Heads

Lay your PVC pipe in the trenches and lay the appropriate sprinkler heads and couplings at each landscape flag or stake.

Step 6: Assemble Parts

Sprinkler watering the garden
Photo Credit: Peggychoucair / Pixabay

Starting at one sprinkler location, assemble all the parts except the sprinkler heads and then move on to the next location and repeat the process. Before you install the heads, you need to flush dirt and debris that made its way into the pipes, or they can clog up.

Step 7: Flush the System

You’ll need to flush the system by turning the water back on. Start at the heads closest to the valve box and work outward. Manually open each valve, allow the water to clear the pipe, and then close it, moving on to the next valve and repeating the process.

Step 8: Install Sprinkler Heads

After you have flushed the debris from the system, you can attach the sprinkler heads to your yard irrigation system. Make sure any pop-ups are flush with the soil line.

Step 9: Wire Control Box

You must wire the controller to the valve manifold according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The controller is the brain of your home sprinkler system. If you don’t feel comfortable working around electricity, call an electrician or someone who knows how to install a sprinkler system control box.

Step 10: Test and Adjust

Now that you have finally accomplished all the hard work and finished installing your DIY lawn irrigation system, it’s time to test things out and program the control box per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Conduct a water audit to be sure sufficient water reaches all parts of the grass. Turn on the system, moving from one zone to the next, and check the sprinkler heads and their spray patterns. Adjust the spray patterns and program the control box to the days and hours you desire the system to operate.

Step 11: Fill Trenches

Once you have tested your newly installed outdoor sprinkler system and everything works properly, it’s time to backfill the trenches with dirt and replant the sod you removed. 

Step 12: Keep it Maintained

Now that you’ve gone through all the work of installing your system keep it running smoothly with tips on sprinkler head repair and adjustments.

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FAQs About Planning and Installing a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

How Many Sprinkler Heads Are Too Many?

How many sprinkler heads are too many depends on your home’s water flow rate. If you overload the system and put too many heads per zone, none of the heads will perform at their best. 

The number of sprinkler heads you can install depends on a few variables, including:

  • Water pressure
  • Type of backflow device
  • Zone valves
  • Sprinkler head brand 
  • Improperly sealed pipes

To gauge how many heads you can have on your system, check the performance chart or design manual that comes with your sprinkler system.

What Pipe is Best for My Sprinkler System?

It’s best to choose from the following types of irrigation pipes: PVC Schedule 40, polyethylene (black roll pipe), or pressure-rated PVC pipes. All three types are easy to work with, readily available, and less expensive than other irrigation pipe styles. 

In southern climates, PVC Schedule 40 is used most frequently. In the colder northern areas, black roll pipe is used because it handles the expansion of the pipe when it freezes.

What Would You Consider a Small to Medium Lawn?

Depending on where you live, a small residential lawn can be up to one-quarter of an acre or 10,890 square feet. A medium lawn could be up to a half acre or 21,780 square feet. 

Freedom From Your Watering Schedule

Putting in a sprinkler system is no easy feat, but it’s certainly something to be proud of if you decide to tackle it and accomplish the project! However, if this DIY project is more than you care to tackle, why not call for help to install your system? 

Reach out to LawnStarter, and we’ll put you in touch with a local irrigation professional who can design and install a sprinkler system. The benefits are a well-watered, healthy landscape and the freedom to wander far from a watering schedule.

Main Image Credit: Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.